Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For He [God] testifieth: ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”
We join our Lady and her firstborn Son in the Temple today where they fulfill all the righteousness of the Law: He as the firstborn must be redeemed and she must be purified on the fortieth day following our Lord’s Birth. All of this, as we said, was in accordance with the Law of Moses, the very Law given to Moses by our Lord Himself! And yet, neither our Lord nor His most holy and pure Mother do not need to be redeemed or purified. But as a faithful and obedient Son and Daughter of Israel, they do so accordingly, so as “to teach us respect and fidelity toward the Lord’s precepts and the value of humility and obedience.” This 40th day ritual becomes the pattern of our own Orthodox practice for the churching of both child and mother.
We heard in the Old Testament readings the basis of this ancient ritual Law. It is grounded in that iconic story of the Exodus, especially so the tenth plague that finally broke the camel’s back, when, as the Wisdom of Solomon so poetically puts it,
all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine almighty Word leaped down from Heaven out of Thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, and brought Thy unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword and, standing up, filled all things with death . . . .(WS 18:14-16).
The angel struck the firstborn in every household of the land, including beasts, that did not have the blood of the slaughtered lamb marking its doorposts (Ex. 12:51-13:16; Lv. 12:1-8; Nm. 8:16-17). For this reason, every firstborn, man or beast, was made holy unto the Lord, and every firstborn male was to be a sacrifice unto God, unless redeemed, that is, bought back. They stood in the place of all those slain that mighty night of divine deliverance as a way of honoring those who gave up their lives. To be a firstborn son, then, in ancient Israel, was to hold a distinct place of privilege and honor and responsibility and sanctity and blessing. The firstborn son was especially sanctified or set apart to serve the Lord. Consequently, on Mt. Sinai, God set apart for holy service the tribe of Levi in lieu of every firstborn male child of Israel. The tribe of Levi took up the duty and the obligation of the firstborn to serve God in His Tabernacle, and later the Temple. Of the tribe of Levi, of the clan of Moses’ brother, Aaron, was the priesthood entrusted. From Aaron’s lineage, then, was the priesthood and from him were the high priests called. It was a genealogical office handed down from father to son. The Law of God and the Levitical priesthood were inextricably interwoven.
But, as St. Paul preaches in his homily to the Hebrews, with the change in priesthood there is, of necessity, a change in the Law. If God Who gave the Law and priesthood could have worked out our salvation from sin thereby, there would have been no need to change things up. It was not that the Law nor the priesthood was unrighteous or unholy. For it was God Himself Who called it into existence for His people! But, it was powerless to deliver the mighty and final blow to sin as a power over us and in our lives, to once more restore the holy communion between God and man. If it had been possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, God would have preserved it.
But, as the case is, neither the blood of bulls nor of goats could smash the darkness of sin and its power. At best, their blood covered our sins, but could not deliver us from sin itself. That is, until the appearing of the Lamb of God foreordained and slaughtered before the foundation of the world (1 Pe. 1:17-21; Rv. 13:8). Here, in the Temple today, in the hands of our Panagia and in the arms of old Simeon the God-bearer, is He Who is the firstborn Son of God, the Holy One of Israel to Whom the Forerunner and Baptist ever points us to. Here, beloved, “’Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!’” (Jn. 1:29, 36). Here, beloved, “’Behold the Man!’” prophetically set aside by Pontus Pilate as the One Who would die “for the life of the world and for its salvation” (Jn. 19:5; Prothesis). Here, in Jesus Christ, is the Light and Life of God and our salvation, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tm. 2:5), Who alone has the power to heal the great divide caused by sin and to restore holy communion between God and man as once in Paradise was experienced, precisely because He and He alone is Himself God and Man! Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (Nicene Creed)! He can and will save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). Here, beloved, is the Consolation of Israel long awaited and foretold by the Prophets and announced by Gabriel. Here is great David’s greater Son, the heir of the throne of His forefather, King David, “’and of His Kingdom there will be no end’” (Annunciation). Here is our new and Great High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek!
Ah, beloved, did you catch that? Not of Levi nor of Aaron, but of Melchizedek who had long preceded the tribe of Levi and the clan of Aaron. What the blood of bulls and of goats failed to accomplish and could never prefect, the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of God Who has been made a Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek could and did! Once, and for all (Hb. 7:27; 10:10)! For there is a new sheriff in town and we are under His new administration, the New Covenant in His Body “broken for you, for the remission of sins” and His Blood “shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins” (Anaphora). “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the Law.” The priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical sacrifices have all now been fulfilled and set aside. The temporal now gives way to the eternal; the temporary yields to the permanent, the lesser to the greater, the type to the antitype. “For [God the Father] testifieth [of His Son by the Holy Spirit]: ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” Our Lord God Emmanuel has become and is so much more “a surety [guarantee] of a better Covenant [Testament]” (Hb. 7:18-22). The Priesthood of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is iron-clad, rock-solid, and fail-proof. Why? Because, unlike all those under the Old Covenant priesthood, Jesus Christ will never die. He has trampled down death by death and will never die again, rejoices the Apostle. “Death no longer has dominion over Him” (Rm. 6:9-10). Like the Priest-King, Melchizedek, long before of whom our Lord is likened to, He has no beginning and no end (Hb. 7:1-3), and so our Lord’s Great High Priesthood remains continually. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost [completely, forever] those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hb. 7:23-28). “’I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’” says our Lord. “’No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (Jn. 14:6), which is to say, through the Great High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, the Son of David, “the Son of Melchizedek,” the Son of God!
“For He testifieth: ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Ex. 12:51-13:16; Lv. 12:1-8; Nm. 8:16-17
Is. 19:1-5, 12, 16, 19-21